As the G20 prepares to meet in Mexico,
all eyes are on China. But the world's second-largest economy is
shying away from the international responsibility it is being asked
The people's republic does not wish to take a place among the major economic powers, but is instead insisting on claiming status as the world's largest developing country.
"Before China truly becomes an economic power in the world, we have a long way to go," Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said as the leaders of the 20 most economically powerful economies gathered to meet in Los Cabos on Monday and Tuesday.
Cui noted that, in terms of output per capita, China was around 100th on the list. There were "many poor people" in China coping with "acute problems" and uneven development, he said.
"China will always remain a developing country, no matter how strong we are," Cui said in remarks seen as a declaration of solidarity with developing countries, aimed at providing a counterweight to the dominance of the Western industrialized countries, led by the United States.
China fears that, should its growing economic power lead to it becoming a member of the industrialized nations club, that group could face an eventual split. At the same time, China would become isolated from the developing world.
"This would weaken the status of all of us," the deputy foreign minister said. By insisting on its role as mouthpiece for the developing world, China was launching a call on the rich world to pay greater heed to the needs of poorer countries, as the minister's comments made clear.
Beijing is also demanding a greater say in the operations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This would come in exchange for being willing to put billions of dollars from its foreign reserves - the world's largest - at the disposal of the organization to counter global financial instability.
Despite the imbalances in the flow of goods, which are also part of the crisis, the world's largest exporter continues to see itself as a victim, blaming the current problems on the United States and Europe.
"These countries must first put their own houses in order," is the message from China, which stresses its hard work in creating growth.
China intends to make a contribution to stabilizing Europe - its most important trading partner - through the purchase of European government bonds.
Beijing keeps insisting on Europe's capacity to resolve the crisis, but a tone of doubt has, nevertheless, crept in.
"We are banking on the best results from the politicians, but we are simultaneously prepared for the worst case," Deputy Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao says.
"China is not prepared to accept economic or political responsibility so easily," Cheng Xiaohe of the People's University in Beijing told dpa. The key question was whether China could really solve the problems, Cheng said.
There was great uncertainty in Beijing over which role China could play, the professor of international relations said. "China does not have that much confidence in its influence on the world stage."
"Would others accept our role? Could we achieve anything? We are still hesitant here," Cheng explained.
The United States, however, refers to China as "a decisive partner" in keeping the global economy on course.
Other issues on the agenda when US President Barack Obama meets his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao for face-to-face talks on Tuesday are the conflict in Syria, Iran's uranium enrichment and North Korea's nuclear arms programme.
As a veto power in the United Nations' Security Council, China has emphasized its commitment to a policy of non-interference, but faces growing difficulty in keeping itself aloof from global problems.
In relation to sanctions, for instance, China rejects them as an instrument of foreign policy after itself being the target in years past.
China has backed Russia over the Syrian conflict and would prefer to avoid the issue altogether at the G20.
Beijing also continues to favour dialogue with Tehran over its nuclear programme. While China has no desire to see a nuclear-armed Iran, it stresses the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Beijing does not want to jeopardize relations with a significant source of oil imports.
China is also reluctant to put too much pressure on North Korea, even though six-party talks on its nuclear weapons have been on ice for the past three years, while the isolated country uses the time to develop long-range missiles.
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